The 10 Best College Football Trick Plays of the BCS Era
Who doesn't love a good trick play every now and then?
Seeing a college football team execute a preplanned bit of deception to perfection is one of the many great pleasures of the game. For all the work teams do to game-plan each others' tendencies and capitalize on weaknesses, every now and then some trickery is needed to spice things up and pull off a big play.
They don't always work, but when they do, it's a great time for all—well, except for those getting tricked.
Over the 16-year span of the now-retired BCS era, we were witness to some of the greatest trick plays in college football history. Not all of them determined the final outcome of the game, but each holds its own special place in the annals of the team that pulled it off.
Here's our look at the 10 best trick plays from college football's BCS era.
10. LSU Fake Field Goal vs. South Carolina
No list of great trick plays would be complete without one from the playbook of Les Miles, also known as The Mad Hatter. There were so many to choose from, but we picked this nugget from early in what would be LSU's last national championship season in 2007.
With the host Tigers leading South Carolina 14-7, Miles sent out his kicking unit to attempt a 32-yard field goal. LSU had pulled off fake field goals in the past, so the Gamecocks and coach Steve Spurrier were likely somewhat prepared for another one. But when the ball was snapped to holder Matt Flynn, kicker Colt David bolted to his right, and Flynn lobbed a no-look pass over his head and into David's arms.
David went untouched 15 yards into the end zone, pacing the 28-16 victory.
The best part of the video above comes when the cameras are pointed toward Miles, who after watching a replay of the score couldn't hide a giant, mischievous smile.
9. Cincinnati Jump Pass vs. Syracuse
While the jump pass has popped up over time in college football, it wasn't until Tim Tebow's time at Florida that it became a big deal. The Heisman-winning quarterback was so adept at the pass that you almost expected it every time he ran toward the line of scrimmage.
But one of the best executions of the jump pass didn't have the legendary lefty quarterback involved. Instead it was Cincinnati, which not only made it look just as easy as Tebow, but also did so with a tight end on the receiving end of a throw from a running back having a career day.
Trailing 10-7 at home to Syracuse at the start of the fourth quarter, Munchie Legaux took the snap from center and handed off to senior George Winn, who headed toward the heavy-formation line but then leaped straight up and fired a pass to tight end Travis Kelce as he streaked up the seam. Kelce caught the pass in stride and went untouched for a 37-yard touchdown.
Winn would finish the game responsible for four TDs, including three on the ground, in the 35-24 win. Kelce would score twice and gain 77 yards on receptions.
8. Oregon Fake Statue of Liberty vs. Michigan
With its high-flying offense and overabundance of talented skill-position players, Oregon has been able to razzle-dazzle opponents with an array of formations and alignments during the past decade of success. The plays are so complex and intricate, at times it would be hard to classify one as more of a trick than any other.
But the fans in Michigan Stadium for this early season nonconference game in 2007 would say otherwise, especially considering how completely fooled the Wolverines defense was on one particular play.
With Oregon leading 18-7 late in the first half, a 1st-and-5 play from the Michigan 9-yard line began with a formation that had Michigan's defenders looking for trickery. Oregon had run a Statue of Liberty play earlier in the game, so the watch was on, but after Dennis Dixon took the snap and put the ball behind his back to allow Jonathan Stewart to take it, he instead kept the pigskin and scampered easily into the end zone for the score.
The Ducks would earn a dominant 39-7 road win, while Michigan would drop to 0-2 (having lost at home to FCS Appalachian State the week before).
7. Oklahoma Fake Field Goal vs. Oklahoma State
There's nothing like a rivalry game to bring out the best in everyone involved. The fans are rowdier, the players are more hyped and the coaches are far too aware of the importance of winning those games. With so much riding on the outcome, it's not surprising that trick plays end up getting thrown in as a way to squeak out a slight edge.
One of last season's wildest rivalry games, the annual Bedlam tilt between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, gave us one of the best versions of the fake field goal you'll ever see.
Oklahoma trailed 17-10 at OSU late in the third quarter and had just been stuffed on third down in the red zone. The Sooners lined up for a 25-yard Michael Hunnicutt attempt, a sure thing from the school's single-season and career field-goals leader. But once the snap came to holder Grant Bothun, Hunnicutt took off to the left, and after Bothun got up and ran, it looked like Hunnicutt was serving as a lead blocker.
Instead, Bothun (a former quarterback in high school) tossed a pass to Hunnicutt (a former prep wide receiver standout) just short of the goal line. Hunnicutt caught the throw and tumbled into the end zone at the front corner before the ball popped out, though the play was upheld as a game-tying touchdown.
The trick was something Oklahoma had run before, but not for more than a decade.
"We've actually run it before," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said, per Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World. "We ran a similar one, not the exact one, against Missouri (in 2002) and my first year against Texas."
Oklahoma went on to beat OSU 33-24 to keep the Cowboys from winning the Big 12 title while sending itself into the Sugar Bowl.
6. USC Double-Reverse TD Pass to Quarterback vs. Michigan
The intent of the BCS was to erase doubt as to who would be the national champion in college football each year, but after the 2003 season, there was the prospect of a split title after LSU was chosen over USC to play Oklahoma (all three of whom had one loss) in the BCS title game. USC instead played in the Rose Bowl against Michigan.
Knowing that style points could factor into voting for The Associated Press' final poll, which didn't have to align with the winner of the BCS game for its No. 1 team, USC pulled out all the stops in beating Michigan 28-14. That included showing off its quarterback's pass-catching abilities.
The Trojans led 21-7 late in the third quarter and were driving when Matt Leinart handed off on a toss play to LenDale White. White then handed it off to a reversing Mike Williams while no one noticed Leinart head up the field on a wheel route. Williams fired a strike to Leinart, who caught the throw in stride for a 16-yard TD catch.
USC would lay claim to a share of the national title with LSU after finishing No. 1 in the AP poll.
5. Michigan State Overtime Fake Field Goal vs. Notre Dame
The college overtime format is great for fans, who get to see the potential for tons of scoring and a game that can last forever. For those same reasons, it's a structure that coaches can only tolerate for so long. Sometimes you have to take a chance and, risking a loss, go for the win.
That's what Michigan State's Mark Dantonio had in mind four years ago when Notre Dame came into East Lansing. The game was tied at 28 after regulation, then the Fighting Irish went up by a field goal to start the first overtime.
MSU went backward on its possession and was forced to attempt a 46-yard field goal to send the clash into a second OT. Or so it would seem, because what was really going to happen was a play known as "Little Giants," Dantonio said after the game.
"We always name our trick plays after movies," Dantonio said. "We keep it fun. ... We actually put it in on Wednesday. It worked every time. I made the call, 'Little Giants,' and I said a little prayer."
Dan Conroy had made a 50-yarder the week before, so the attempt was within his range. But instead, holder Dan Bates stood up with the snap to attempt a throw downfield on 4th-and-13. The intended target was running back Le'Veon Bell, but Notre Dame had him well-covered.
But it'd forgotten about tight end Charlie Gantt, who was wide open behind the defense for the game-winning 29-yard TD catch.
4. Boise State Hook-and-Ladder vs. Oklahoma
This entire list could be made up of tricks Boise State pulled out of the back of its playbook for its first-ever trip to a BCS bowl game, but we had to be more diplomatic with our selections. Still, a few of the biggest ones just couldn't be left out, including a play that helped set up several others.
Boise was a decided underdog against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Broncos held their own throughout the contest and even led by 11 points in the fourth quarter. A huge Sooners rally gave them the lead in the final moments, putting Boise in a 4th-and-18 situation from midfield with 18 seconds left.
Everyone knew the Broncos had to go deep and make something big happen, but even though Oklahoma had the field well-covered, they weren't prepared for the old hook-and-ladder play.
Quarterback Jared Zabransky found Drisan James at the Sooners' 35, which was three yards short of the first down, but instead of moving upfield, he turned back toward the line and lateraled to a streaking Jerard Rabb who slipped past the defense and dove into the end zone for the game-tying score.
Boise went on to win the game in overtime, but you'll have to keep scrolling through the slideshow to find out how.
3. Presbyterian Bounce Pass vs. Wake Forest
There are two reasons for FCS programs to play games against FBS teams. First and foremost, there's the money aspect, but after that, there's a chance to make a big splash with a signature victory.
Presbyterian hasn't managed to accomplish the latter, going 0-6 all time against FBS opponents (with three more on the slate for the 2014 season). But that doesn't mean the Blue Hose haven't left their mark, doing so in their first-ever game against an FBS team back in 2010.
Though the final score of that season-opening loss at Wake Forest (53-13) was forgettable, there will always the memories of one of the most exquisite bounce passes you'll ever see away from a basketball court.
Trailing 28-0 just before halftime, Presbyterian quarterback Brandon Miley threw a quick sideline pass to Derrick Overholt, but the throw bounced short of him. The ball still ended up in Overholt's hands, and after feigning disappointment that the play was over, thus lulling several Wake Forest defenders into sleep, he heaved the ball downfield to Michael Ruff for a 68-yard touchdown pass.
"The trick play was as well executed as anything I've ever seen," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe told reporters. "He (Overholt) hit the ball and seemed so disgusted that it was incomplete. I thought that was beautiful."
The throw was ruled a lateral, therefore when it hit the ground, it remained a live ball. It was so precise that Wake Forest had no chance of stopping it once they thought the play was an incomplete pass.
2. Georgia Tech Fake Field Goal vs. Clemson
Fake field goals and punts are the most common type of trick plays, with several of the field-goal plays making this list. But to get this close to No. 1 requires something special, an extra layer of deception—something Georgia Tech did in spades five years ago.
Tech was already leading 14-0 late in the first quarter when it stalled on a drive at Clemson's 34-yard line. After a delay deciding what to do, Paul Johnson sent his field-goal team out to try a 51-yarder and pulled his offense off the field.
Well, most of it.
In the chaos that comes with mass substitutions, the Yellow Jackets didn't send out a full team for the field-goal try. That's because receiver Demaryius Thomas never left the field, stopping just short of the sideline, and was basically ignored by Clemson's defense. It didn't notice him until the ball was snapped directly to kicker Scott Blair, who then threw a wobbly pass deep downfield to Thomas along the sideline for a 34-yard touchdown.
Who knew, at the time, how important that play would be. Clemson made a furious comeback after falling behind 24-0, scoring the next 27 points before Blair kicked a pair of field goals in the final five minutes and 40 seconds to give Tech the victory.
1. Boise State Statue of Liberty Play vs. Oklahoma
When we look back at the 16-year run of the BCS, we'll recall plenty of great games and some fantastic finishes. Most of those will have come in the national championship game, though the other BCS games also provided us with some amazing action.
And one of those games gave us the greatest trick play of the BCS era.
Boise State's monumental Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma needed trickery just to get to overtime, as noted in an earlier slide. But the extra session required even more magic, especially after Oklahoma went up 42-35 almost immediately thanks to Adrian Peterson's touchdown run.
The Broncos naturally tied the game on a fourth-down pass from a wide receiver to a backup tight end, a play that was just getting the stage set for what would come next. That's when Boise decided to go for two instead of kick for the extra point and send it into a second overtime.
Quarterback Jared Zabransky looked right, faked a throw to pull Oklahoma's defense in that direction and then held the ball behind his back to allow Ian Johnson to grab it and execute one of the best Statue of Liberty plays in college football history.
Johnson told reporters after the game how excited he was when learning what the play would be.
"When he said Statue I thought, 'Ohhh, brother, we're going to do it in style,'" Johnson said.
Johnson scampered into the end zone for the two points, giving Boise the lead, then he pulled out his own trick by instantly proposing to his Broncos cheerleader girlfriend.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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